|Information delivery through ICT is faster, cheaper and scalable.|
“Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) make a big difference in accelerating impact of research and improving extension services,” stated knowledge exchange and ICT expert Paolo Ficarelli at the Asia Rice Science Week of the Global Rice Science Partnership (GRISP) at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) headquarters from 26-30 January.
In food crop systems, 50% of productivity gains may be driven by improved varieties, while the other half depends on multiple factors, one of which is knowledge access through extension.
“The low and slow technology adoption has been an on-going challenge,” Ficarelli said. “Often, farmers find it difficult to avail of and access agricultural information that they could make use of in improving farm productivity. In India, for instance, 60% of farmers have no access to information. Only about 7% receive information from public extension and 10% from input suppliers.”
Information delivery through extension services is wrought with pressing challenges. For one, extension is a very expensive undertaking as it requires employing a large number of people. Building the capacity of extension workers also entail a hefty cost. Additionally, extension education should be strongly based on human interaction and trust between farmers and extension workers as Ficarelli learned in his many years of doing extension works.
“ICT platforms for extension could bridge this information divide,” Ficarelli explained. “Front hand devices like laptops and mobile phones, linked to web-applications provide real time analytics and data visualization of what happens in farmers’ fields.”
These platforms also link with Geographic Information System (GIS) that provides geo-reference of farmers’ location data and can be visualized on area and country maps. ICTs are also cost-effective communication pipelines as information delivery becomes faster, cheaper and scalable while providing site-specific advisory.
Realizing the value of ICT for extension, IRRI developed a mobile-enabled ICT platform called Rice Crop Manager (RCM) in 2008. In his presentation, Roland Buresh, principal scientist at IRRI, discussed the benefits of using RCM in recommending precise farming practices like crop and nutrient management that small-scale farmers could apply in their fields. “IRRI has a powerful data management system,” Dr. Buresh said. “The RCM can work across countries with multiple crops and place the voluminous information through cloud computing right at the tip of decision makers of extension and research organizations.”
The Philippines’ Department of Agriculture has been supporting the dissemination of RCM in the country through local government units. As a result, about 290,000 printed recommendations have already reached farmers in 2014. From November 2013 up to January 2015, 315,000 personalized recommendations reached farmers in the Philippines and 8,700 in Bangladesh, illustrating the potential of this ICT as a decision support tool. As part of scaling-out, RCM is now being evaluated in India and Vietnam, and it will soon be released as a Rice Agro-advisory Service in Indonesia.
“Despite the values that ICTs bring to improve productivity, ICT is not a magic bullet,” Ficarelli contends. “They are just amplifiers of existing functional service delivery systems to farmers.”